Sunday, September 4, 2011

Heron Watching

Wildlife Safari, Winston, Oregon
Usually when we watch a great blue heron we are awed by their patience. Maybe the heron we’re watching now is impressed by our patience. We’re parked in warm, late morning, sun, and watching him. The heron is just lazing about, perched on a large horizontal branch in an old snag. We almost didn’t stop: the light is a little harsh; the heron is no longer in breeding plumage; he doesn’t appear to be doing much of anything. Yet a great blue heron is almost irresistible to pass by when he is close. Dale quietly places his camera on the car windowsill and I start sketching.
First the heron is just resting, then he takes an interest in the murky pond thirty feet below. I can’t imagine he’d dive after something from up there. Probably he is just curious about the mallards dabbling about, or perhaps he sees a frog or two. It is an adult great blue heron. The young of the year are a rather blah grey. This bird has strong darks and lights on his head, but he has lost the long plume that is characteristic during breeding season. He looks a little ratty to me. Then Dale comments, “He’s soaked.” Dale can see more through his big lens than I can with binoculars. The heron must have drenched itself when hunting in the pond and then flew up onto this branch to rest and dry off.
A little scratching is in order. Growing in new feathers is itchy.
Oh my, Now I can see he is wet. Time to dry off. He fluffs out his breast feathers, droops his wings and stands facing the sun.

After sunning himself for awhile he folds his wings back into place and starts to gap a little, as if something is stuck in his throat. Something is stuck! The heron just coughed up a soupy pellet. Owls are famous for their pellets, i.e. little lumps of bone and feather they cough up after digesting a meal of mouse, bird, or whatever is on the menu. Several other birds also cough up pellets. Hawks do, all the corvids do (crows, jays and ravens), even kingfishers do. And now we’ve seen a great blue heron cough up what he can’t digest.
We finally drive on, but when we return an hour later, the heron is back to soaking his belly again. Hunting is good in this little pond.

Note: We watched the heron at Hart Lake, a small pond that is part of Wildlife Safari in Winston Oregon. Wildlife Safari is a drive through park where we volunteer. Amongst the zebras, wildebeests, rhinos, etc., are many native species which also benefit from the park.


  1. Saw that fellow on the last tour I did, but you captured him so well with a lot more drama than just standing watching for a frog to swim by him. Very interesting with great sketches and photos.

  2. ...nice, Elva. I really like that last sketch. It's so in the moment.

  3. I'll be expecting rhinos next, Elva! Lovely sketches.I love the photo of the punk heron...;)

  4. Your field are always so interesting! Beautiful photos and wonderful sketches and great information.

  5. Lovely post. I love Wild Life Safari. How fun you get to visit it so much. Love the Egrets and blue herons too. Dales camera is awesome. It captures such great detail.

  6. I've never seen a heron dry itself like that--reminds me of the anhingas I saw in Florida.

    My daughter visited Wildlife Safari this summer--who knows, maybe she saw you there!

  7. Excellent sketches! I'm a big fan of herons - they are odd but elegant.

  8. Love the various poses of Sir Heron. They look like double-jointed acrobats when they're trying to dry they can go get wet again!